Community development meeting (10 December)

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A $15,000 slide?

The community development committee meeting was held on 10 December 2015. Apologies were received from the Mayor and Crs Dowler and Ensor for lateness. All other councillors were present.

The agenda included: (1) chair’s report, (2) community development activities report, (3) enviro-schools programme for 2014-2015, (4) community development action sheet report, and (5) an in-committee (confidential) report regarding Wakefield pensioner housing.

This meeting was a rather tense one – as I raised two issues that appeared to show staff acting contrary to the spirit of earlier discussions. The first related to the recording of minutes, and the second in relation to receiving approval to spend money on replacing playground equipment in Chelsea Avenue Park.

The minutes

Council was asked to confirm the confidential minutes of the 17 September 2015 meeting. You might recall from my earlier post of that meeting (see www.greeningtasman.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/community-development-meeting-17-september/), that I had proposed the addition of the following words to the minutes of the (in committee) agenda item relating to Rainbow Ski field (which was subsequently made public by resolution). The additional words I proposed were:

In response to repeated questions regarding the estimated cost of generating subsequent reports, Mr Tregurtha advised that the estimated cost of generating a report, similar to the one before council, would be approximately $10,000 per report.

After some discussion (and with the chairs support), the manager asked that my proposed addition to the minutes be deferred until the next community development meeting (being this one), so that the staff member (then on leave) could be consulted as to what was said.

However, at this meeting, the proposed minutes of the in-committee report stated something quite different. The minutes had now inserted the following paragraph (as written by staff):

In response to questions regarding the estimated cost of generating subsequent reports and administrating the loan, Mr Tregurtha advised that this would have been approximately $10,000 in the last year, including writing several reports, analysing the financial information and following up on the outstanding loan payments.

This was a subtle change from “$10,000 per report” to “$10,000 in the last year”.

I took issue with this change to the minutes. First, this was not what had been said. Secondly, the staff wording had jumped the que. Surely my wording had to be considered (and voted on by council) first. After all, I had deferred a vote on my proposed amendment to the minutes so staff could be consulted. Thirdly, there appeared to be no proposal to make this insertion by staff, other than the resolution to accept the minutes. Surely any change to the original minutes, tabled at the earlier meeting (or this meeting), had to record a change? Fortunately, this blog corrects that.

The response from the chair was that there had been no agreement on my proposed words and they had anyway been defeated? A position contrary to what had been earlier agreed – that my proposed words would be left on the table so staff could seek clarification for absent staff. There was also no record (in the minutes) of my words being defeated by a vote?

I found this to be an extraordinary position for the chair to take. Nevertheless, the chair proceeded to call for mover and seconder of the motion to approve the Minutes “as amended” (by staff). My dissent being over-ruled and ignored. The motion was carried (myself voting against it).

The lesson in all this, is get the formal motion seconded so it has to be minuted (before leaving it on the table) – and then invite staff to come back and seek amendment at the next meeting. Being flexible appears to leave you open to being taken advantage of.

Chair’s report – Chelsea Avenue park

During the chairs report, I took the opportunity to raise my concerns over the decision by Cr Edgar and Cr Higgins to approve spending of $25,000 on replacing play ground equipment in Chelsea Avenue Reserve Park (also known as “Harriet Court Park”).

By way of background, in early 2014, I had noted that the Richmond reserve financial contributions (RFC) account in the long term plan (LTP), proposed to spend around $54,000 on replacing playground equipment in Harriet Court Park. This expenditure was a carry over of earlier approval by councilors in 2011-12 Annual Plan, but spending it had been delayed, due to the storm event in 2011.

I thought this was a rather large sum and sought to investigate the park equipment myself. The Richmond RFC account is governed by the four ward councillors.

As an aside, I had noticed when I first joined council that the annual funds of the RFC account was spent on the basis of projected income (ie, the next years revenue from development contributions), which had regularly resulted in the account spending more than it subsequently earned (and having to borrow funds to cover the over-spending). In my mind this seemed poorly managed and I suggested that the RFC account would be better managed if it only spent money it had received from the earlier year, rather than trying to project funds from possible development activity in the future year. This is now how RFC accounts are managed.

In 2015, council agreed to carry over the 2014-15 budget into the 2015-16 year (see www.greeningtasman.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/community-development-meeting-17-september/). Staff had also reassured councillors that just because it was budgeted, did not mean it had to be spent. Ward councillors still had to authorise any RFC spending.

On inspection I discovered that the park equipment appeared to be in fairly good condition. I took some photographs (see my earlier posts) and sought clarification from staff over what equipment was proposed to be replaced. I was advised that the “rail track ride” was rusty and needed to be replaced, as well as the “turn style” as part of the normal replacement program. Apparently, equipment would normally be replaced when staff considered it had come to the end of its estimated useful life (EUL).

Leaving aside the fact “EUL” is a tax depreciation concept (not the actual useful life of an asset), I suggested that if equipment had to be replaced, a better approach would be to remove the offending equipment. If the community asked about any removed equipment, then we could investigate a solution (including replacement). If not, then we had saved some money. I also suggested that we should only be replacing equipment, if it actually needed replacing, and not because it had come to the end if its EUL. From my observations, the “rail track ride” was hardly used.

I again raised my concerns during the community development meeting on 29 October 2015 (see www.greeningtasman.wordpress.com/2015/11/06/community-development-meeting-29-october/).

In my opinion, the staff’s program of replacing equipment at the end of the assets estimated life was not good asset management. Just because the estimated useful life (EUL) had expired, did not mean it needed replacement. All it meant was the asset could no longer be depreciated. If the asset was still functioning (and safe), then it should be left alone.

It’s also worth noting that this “smarter” approach to asset management (based on “actual” life from real inspection, versus estimated life from a theoretical end of life) is also the new approach to asset management that the engineering team was now adopting for roading infrastructure.

Parks and reserve staff appeared unenthused with my suggestion of removal (rather than replacement), and sought to survey the local residents (to see if there was support for new equipment), as well as wait until the next maintenance report was received from the council’s contractor. In seeking to remain involved in any future decisions, I asked to be “kept in the loop”.

Apparently the survey (which I was only told about in late November 2015) asked for the following information: (1) age of children, (2) number of children, (3) items of play equipment that are enjoyed or would like to see within this development, (4) comments or any other improvements to the reserve in general, and whether they would they like to attend a site meeting.

In a subsequent discussion with staff, it appeared that the “rail ride” was no longer the problem and staff acknowledged that it probably just needed a coat of paint. I continued to monitor the park, to see if there was much use of play equipment.

On one occasion I had a chat with a group of young mothers about their thoughts on council spending large amounts of money on park equipment. They were quite taken back by the level of planned spending and suggested the equipment was fine, and the only thing that needed attention was the “turn style” ride, which needed some oil. Other than that, the equipment only needed “a slap of paint”. If equipment was dangerous it could be removed. In their opinion, there was already “more than enough equipment to use” and most children used the field (to kick a ball around) or the dirt mound. I agree.

Subsequently, I learned from staff that they had received approval from Cr Edgar and Higgins to spend $25,000 on replacing some equipment. Apparently this decision was based on the maintenance report, that had recommended replacing some at risk equipment.

As you might appreciate, I was a little disappointed in staff’s failure to contact me about their need for a decision on replacing some equipment, given my prior interest. Surely, it was not to difficult to email or phone me? But no such contact, before or after that meeting with Cr Edgar and Higgins, was made. I only learned of the decision, from following up staff on when they would be likely to receive the results from the community survey.

On learning of the decision to spend $25,000 on replacing equipment, I immediately raised my concern with management and asked that the decision be placed on hold pending discussions with the other ward councillors. Given nothing had been spent (or ordered yet), management agreed. I then asked for a copy of the maintenance report, so I could be informed over what assets were the subject of spending.

The report forwarded to me highlighted the following items:

Asset Survey date Age Condition Maintenance Recommendation Capital value Recommendation Comment
Spinner 08/07/10 20 years 3 (average) Bearing loose. Tighten fitting. Cost $50 $3,500.00 Replacement at end of life (rank 3) Similar type of accident to Invercargill
See-saw 08/07/10 10 years 2 (above average) $3,500.00 Replacement at end of life (rank 4)
Module (small) 08/07/10 10 years 3 (average) Track ride, loose rattles. Deck bent. Post splintered. Slide entrapment. Panels loose. Secure track ride. Monitor bent deck. Plane off splinter. Fill slide entrapment. Provide spacer on panel. Cost $100. $30,000.00 Replacement at end of life (rank 4)
Springy 08/07/10 10 years 3 (average) Does not rock. $2,900.00 Replacement at end of life (rank 3)
Swings 08/07/10 10 years 3 (average) $4,500.00 Replacement at end of life (rank 3)
Surfaces 08/07/10 3 bark surfaces. Replenish bark. Cost. $257 +$1,320 +$257 $857 + $2,264 +$857

Consistent with the observations of the mothers I had spoken with earlier (see above), the spinner needed a bearing replacement (and probably some oil too). Cost $50. Also, the rail track ride did not appear in this report, consistent with earlier discussions with staff that the track ride was fine. In my opinion, this report did not justify any replacement work.

After digesting the report, I sought to raise this issue at the next committee meeting (which was this one). The ward councillors could then decide how they wanted to proceed.

After raising my concerns about the proposed spending and explaining why these assets did not need replacement, just because the EUL had expired, I was advised by staff that they had sent me the wrong maintenance report. Why I was not advised of this before the start of the meeting (perhaps via an email or phone call) was never explained.

Apparently the report I had been sent was for the earlier year. Copies of the “correct” report were immediately circulated around the committee meeting. Staff then went about talking through the correct report. I had always wondered what an ambush felt like, now I knew.

The correct report contained the following information:

Asset Survey date Age Condition Maintenance Recommendation Capital value Recommendation Comment
Turn-style 12/12/14 25 years 3 (average) Bearing loose. Tighten fitting. Cost ? $3,500.00 Replacement at end of life (rank 3) Similar type of accident to Invercargill
Track ride 12/12/14 5 years 2 (above average) $15,000.00 Replacement at end of life (rank 4)
Module (small) 12/12/14 30 years 3 (average) Post splintered. Tunnel split. Fill slide entrapment. Plane off splinter. Re-secure tunnel. Cost $100. $15,000.00 Replacement at end of life (rank 2) Toggle entrapment, finger entrapment in deck, no slide run out, hard object in swing fall space.
See-saw 12/12/14 15 years $3,500.00
Springy 12/12/14 15 years 3 (average) Does not rock. $3,000.00 Replacement at end of life (rank 3)
Swings 12/12/14 15 years 3 (average) $3,500.00 Replacement at end of life (rank 3) Finger entrapment in chains
Surface 12/12/14 3 bark surfaces. Nail in edge. Remove nail. $1,813.33 + $4,788.33 + $1,813.33 Replacement at end of life (rank 3, 3 and4).

Interestingly, there was little change between the two reports. Although its worth noting that this survey was done a year ago (14 December 2015), the rail track ride had now appeared in the report, and the capital value of the small module had changed from $30,000 to $15,000. Interestingly, bark depth (assessed in the 8 July 2010 report) was no longer an issue. Also, the spinner (now called a “turn-style”) had no cost estimate for the bearing and now recommended just tightening the fitting.

However, the main item of concern for staff was now a 2 metre slide fixed to a junior play equipment module (photo above). According to staff, the slide had to be replaced. This was because a playground safety standard specified that all slides had to have a 2 metre run off, and this slide did not. Unfortunately, given the age of the module (at the end of its EUL) a suitably sized slide could not be found, so the entire module would have to be replaced (a $15,000 cost). The report also noted that the module had come to the “end of the asset life”. For these reasons, staff supported the assets total replacement.

This was also the first time staff had raised the issue of the slide (with me). Which was rather perplexing, given I had been engaged in extensive discussions about the park equipment leading up to this meeting. And at no time had staff raised the issue of a slide? Rather it had always been the rail track and spinner (turn-style).

I did not agree with the slide replacement. In my opinion, if there was a safety standard that staff had to adhere too, then the most cost effective solution was to remove the slide. Replacing the whole module because of a single slide made no sense.

From my own observations, it appeared that very few children (if any) appeared to used the junior module or its slide (top picture). Instead young parents and children preferred to use the other larger module, which also had a slide (see photo below). Yes, this park has two slides.

 

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It subsequently came to my attention (on making further enquiries after the meeting) that the standard was not a mandatory standard. In effect, staff were not compelled to adhere to the standard. The fact the standard was not mandatory was not disclosed in the meeting. A rather glaring omission, in my opinion.

According to a guide on the standard (see www.playgrounds.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Playground-People-PinkBook.pdf), it states:

NZS 5828:2004 is not retrospective or, currently, as with previous standards, a legal requirement but represents “best practice” in the event of an accident claims. Their limitations should be recognised: mere compliance will not automatically create a safe playground. Like previous playground standards they are intended to be used intelligently.

If the standard is not mandatory (or a legal requirement), why are we blindly adhereing to it? Especially when there have been no reported incidents from having a short run-off on the slide? I suspect there is an element of over zealous risk management going on here.

In my opinion it would appear staff were running scared of the presence of a standard (or using it to justify replacement expenditure). I suspect staff reasoning was partially influenced by EUL and concern that if there was an accident, the fact we did not abide by a (non-mandatory) standard might expose council (and staff) to potential liability.

In my opinion, such an approach fails to take into account the fact that standards are generally evidentiary in nature, and this one was not even mandatory. As such, other evidence could be called upon to show risk was appropriately managed.

According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (at www.dol.govt.nz/publications/nohsac/reviewefficacy/008_content.asp):

Codes of practice ‘approved’ or otherwise officially ‘made’ under OHS legislation have a quasi-legal status. At a minimum, they are evidentiary, and legislation provides for their use as evidence in Court.

However, they are not legally binding. They provide guidance about an acceptable way (or ways) to comply with an OHS statute (or regulations), but there is the option to devise alternative ways of satisfying legal obligations. Voluntary codes and non-statutory guidance material are also flexible instruments that provide advice but they have a less formal status.

Adherence to a standard is just one aspect of establishing unreasonable risk taking (and that all practicable steps had been taken to avoid unreasonable risk). Additional evidence, like the playground (in particular the slide) not having any accidents, in its entire 25 year life, would (in my opinion) be a valid consideration. Remembering that this related to a slide run off (worst case, a sore bottom)?

When one looks at the slide (image at the top of this post) it’s fairly evident that staff are over-reacting to safety concerns from a short run off at the end of the slide. Leaving aside the fact that  the slide has no recorded accidents, and is not particularly long, so its doubtful a child could get up much speed to slide off the end with any force? One also needs to remember that the standard is not intended to be retrospective anyway? Which means it is not intended to apply to older equipment installed before the standard was released, only new equipment.

Staff also pointed to safety concerns of the “turn-style”. The initial report identified this required the replacement of its bearings and the fact it had come to the end of its life (ie EUL). Staff also highlighted that a child had been injured on a similar piece of equipment (in a similar condition) in Invercargill, and therefore it also had to be replaced. No other items were discussed or highlighted for replacement.

Again, the fact there had never been an incident on the Harriet Park turn-style (in its 15 years, and in its current state), was given no consideration. Nor the fact it would be repaired so that it would be in a different state to the one in Invercargill.

It was also not made clear if there was any liability for the Invercargill council arising from the accident (which I suspect there was not). Causation is hard to prove at the best of times, and accidents happen. In my mind, the turn-style should have been either fixed or removed, but not replaced. Again, I favoured removal (if there was any doubt).

At the conclusion of the staff’s presentation, Cr Dowler supported the staff’s recommendation. Pointing out several other features that he considered were unsafe (none of which had been identified in the professional report). In my mind, this was just another example of a councillor reverting to unsupportable arguments to support (and rubber stamp) their endorsement of staff proposals.

Cr Norris also became quite irritated that ward business had been brought to the committee table. I pointed out to him that it had been brought before the ward councillors at the earliest opportunity (as well as to alert other councillors about the possibility of unnecessary replacement spending occurring in their own Ward RFC accounts), and I was only too happy to discuss the issue at the conclusion of the meeting. Cr Mirfin supported this option.

However, the chair (Cr Edgar) did not, and called for an immediate resolution to support the staff’s recommended spending (as approved by herself and Cr Higgins). I voted against the resolution and lost (with no support from any other councillors).

Having spoken to a number of people at the park, on the occasions I have visited, it is apparent that the community do not want vast sums of money spent on the park and were open to equipment being removed if it became dangerous. In the opinion of one resident, the equipment did not need to be replaced, and “there was already enough equipment to play on”. Another resident thought it was an over-reaction and agreed other solutions (removal or soft padding near the end of the slide) should have been explored by staff first.

In my opinion, this is another example of wasteful spending, both initially proposed by staff, and subsequently endorsed by the majority of councillors. In my opinion, a number of councillors are out of touch with the community they are suppose to be representing.

Some people have suggested that not spending money on a park is more newsworthy than over-spending on a park. I disagree. Council had the opportunity to demonstrate it was working hard to save money. The items driving replacement of the entire module (ie the slide) did not need to be replaced. And if it did, the slide could have been easily removed. Instead council governance (and staff) choose to spend.

In my opinion, this reflects a culture of some long established council members, who are only to keen to rubber stamp spending. That culture needs to change. Perhaps it will only change if council is refreshed with new representatives and leadership.

One final point. While these RFC funds are held in a closed account, that does not mean they should be wasted. Funds saved now, can be used for other worthwhile community projects at a later date (for example, improved public toilets or more toilets). Its about getting the most from the assets (and funds) we have. Rather than spending it, because we have it.

[Update: At the time of writing this post, the small module had still not been replaced. Here’s hoping the decision can be revisited (or stalled by more sensible members of staff). Lets keep our costs (and rates) down].

Community development activities

The manager’s report highlighted the following activities:

  • Velodrome. The Saxton Velodrome trust had raised $250,000 of the $320,000 it had to raise (as part of its 20% share of the cost).
  • Golden bay recreation facility. The building contract was awarded to Gibbons construction with a completion date of October 2016. This meant that the tender panel (comprising Cr Edgar and Cr Norris) had also agreed that the in-kind contribution had been fulfilled. A condition of the approval was confirmation that the community could fund their portion of the constructions cost. Plans can be viewed on: www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/public-consultation/completed-consultations/2014-consultations/feedback-form-golden-bay-community-recreation-facility-concept-plan/.
  • Events. In Your neighbourhood (at Easby Park, Richmond) was held on 1 November 2015. The event was internally managed and cost $500 (flyers), plus $200 (port-a-loo), plus staff time (leave in lieu). The event show cases council activities (including cycling safety) as well as volunteer groups. Having attended the event, I thought it was a good way for council to engage with residents.
  • Mudcakes and roses survey. Staff conducted a survey about this publication. Less than 60 people responded. 55 liked the publication, 8 neutral and 2 didn’t like it. The publication has a print run of 3,500 copies (800 copies go to NCC and 150 to Nelson library). It is published every 2-months (6 issues a year). Print and production costs are roughly $8,700 per issue (roughly $50,000 per year). The net cost (after advertising and NCC grants) is around $5,200 per issue ($31,000 per year). The low feedback given the print run, suggests the publication readership is not high (and probably very marginal). The survey results (hardly within a margin of statistical significance) showed the events section was the most popular. This suggests that the events section needs to be migrated to another source (eg www.itson.co.nz and\or age concern’s own publication, and\or public notice boards). Given this publication did not get a lot of support during the LTP consultation (several submissions suggesting it should be terminated) would suggest its time to end this publication and save some money. I again stressed at the meeting that staff should consider terminating this publication. Other councilors were ambivalent. Staff advised that they will instead consider the survey results in order to develop a range of options for delivering information to older residents. In my opinion, more staff time wasted.
  • Contracts. A new management contract is currently being considered by the recreation centre committee. In my opinion, a standard templated contract approach is highly desirable, given the issues with council contracts in the past (eg the mayor signing a contract without specifying a price). Why the mayor never challenged such a contract is incomprehensible? Wellington city council have a series of standard template contracts (see www.wellington.govt.nz/~/media/your-council/selling-products-and-services/WCC-Services-Contract-Template-July-2014.pdf), which appear based on government templated contracts (see www.business.govt.nz/procurement/for-agencies/government-model-contracts).
  • Online payments. A number of services are now able to be paid and received remotely via receipt of online payments (see www.tasman.govt.nz/services/make-a-payment/).
  • Aquatic and fitness centre. The September 2015 report showed patronage of 25,576.
  • Public engagement. Staff forecast that the number of engagement exercises is “only going to grow”. Staff are exploring new ways to engage with the public given public meetings as an engagement vehicle are diminishing in popularity.
  • Libraries. New online paperless registration process for new borrowers started from 1 December 2015. Around 195 new borrowers are registered each month. No trend reports were included in the agenda.

Agenda and minutes

The agenda and minutes are located at www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/community-services-committee-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/CommunityServicesCommittee/2015/2015-12-10.

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